DETROIT — The Detroit Tigers are heading back to California with the help of Max Scherzer and some fans in right field.
During a relief outing to remember, Scherzer escaped a major jam one inning after two fans reached out to try to reel in Victor Martinez’s disputed home run, and the Tigers rallied past the Oakland Athletics 8-6 on Tuesday to force a decisive fifth game in their AL division series.
Playing catch-up most of the way, the Tigers tied it first with Jhonny Peralta’s three-run homer in the fifth and then on Martinez’s solo shot in the seventh. A couple of fans attempted to catch Martinez’s drive, and at least one of them bobbled the ball as he reached over the railing.
That prevented right fielder Josh Reddick from having any chance at a leaping grab. Reddick and center fielder Coco Crisp protested, pointing up at the stands for a fan-interference call. But umpires upheld the home run after a replay review.
Scherzer, making his first relief appearance since the 2011 postseason, gave up a run in the seventh and got in trouble again in the eighth. With the Tigers ahead 5-4, he allowed a walk and a double to start the inning, but after an intentional walk to load the bases, manager Jim Leyland left his 21-game winner on the mound.
Scherzer struck out Reddick and Stephen Vogt before getting pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo to line out to center.
“It was surreal,” Scherzer said. “Maybe it’s not the ninth inning, but that’s the stuff you dream about pitching – bases loaded, eighth inning, no outs and I was able to do it.”
Yoenis Cespedes hit a two-run single in the ninth,but Joaquin Benoit struck out Seth Smith to end it.
After avoiding elimination, the Tigers can now send Justin Verlander to the mound for Game 5 on Thursday in Oakland. Verlander shut out the A’s at the Coliseum in the decisive fifth game of the division series last year.
Scherzer was in line to start Game 5 before being pressed into service Tuesday.
“We took our best shot and we had to because we were behind the 8-ball a little bit,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. Oakland hasn’t announced a starter for Game 5. Crisp had four hits and three runs for the A’s, who led 3-0 and 4-3 but couldn’t close out the defending American League champions.
After Crisp put the A’s ahead 4-3 with an RBI single in the seventh, Martinez lifted a fly to right against reliever Sean Doolittle. It would have been an extremely difficult catch for Reddick, and it looked as though the ball might have cleared the wall even without the fans.
Reddick saw things differently.
“I have no doubt I was going to catch that ball” Reddick said.But Gary Darling was umpiring in right field and he disagreed, even after watching the replay.
“It was clearly going to be a home run,” Darling said. “There wasn’t any other evidence on replay to turn it another way.”
It was certainly an anxious wait for fans while umpires reviewed the play, which brought back memories of Derek Jeter’s fan-aided homer against Baltimore in the 1996 AL championship series at Yankee Stadium.
Peralta followed with a double, and Austin Jackson – who was 1 for 14 with 10 strikeouts in the series to that point – managed a broken-bat single to put the Tigers ahead 5-4.
It appeared Detroit was in big trouble in the eighth, but Scherzer was able to protect the one-run lead, and the Tigers eventually added to it.
Detroit starter Doug Fister allowed three runs and seven hits in six innings before being relieved by Scherzer, who came back on three days’ rest after his victory in Game 1.
Oakland took the series lead with a victory in Game 3, and Crisp’s leadoff triple Tuesday put the Tigers on their heels again. Crisp scored on Jed Lowrie’s one-out single, putting immediate pressure on Detroit’s slumbering offense.
It appeared the Athletics were on their way to the ALCS when Lowrie’s two-run homer in the fifth gave Oakland a three-run lead. With slugger Miguel Cabrera still hobbled by injuries, A’s rookie Dan Straily held the Tigers hitless until the fifth.
But after a bloop single by Prince Fielder, Martinez grounded a base hit to right. Peralta, who moved from shortstop to left field after returning from his late-season drug suspension, lined one over the wall in left, finally bringing Comerica Park fans to life.
NOTES: Cabrera hit a sixth-inning single. He’s reached base safely in all 28 of his postseason games with the Tigers. ... Detroit had gone seven games without a homer. ... Peralta’s homer was the first extra-base hit allowed by Straily since Sept. 7, according to STATS.